Last week my neighbors were complaining about noise pollution. A driver was playing music with his car windows open. So loudly that it woke them up. A little Taylor Swift at high volume at 5:00 a.m. ruined their day. Loud music, revving engines, chain saws, nail guns. What are all these sounds doing to our health and wellbeing?
And then there are our lawns. I wonder if our yards are worth destroying our health over? Think about it: We know that Roundup is a killer that’s permeating our soil, air, food, and bodies. And right next to the Roundup sprayer on almost every landscape truck I see is a leaf blower that spews toxic fumes into the air all the while making an interminable and irritating noise. Leaf blowers take a zen-like, meditative activity—raking leaves—and turn it into a noise pollution assault on everyone within earshot.
Have you ever wondered why it is that in order to make eco-friendly, beautiful landscapes for our homes, we have to make so much grating and incessant noise?
Sounds like a rant? Perhaps. But noise pollution is real and it causes us stress even when we aren’t aware of it.
Caring about things like noise pollution again
I’m sick of 2020. I don’t know about you but I’d like a break from this year of 2020 and the shitshow perspective it’s afforded us all (because if a supervirus, lockdowns, economic collapse, rampant suicides, civil rights clashes, and now climate-related wildfires doesn’t sharpen your vision a bit, nothing will)…
B.C. = before COVID. I recall a time back in B.C. when we still had backyard get-togethers, worked side-by-side in coffee shops, and cared about things like straws polluting the ocean, reducing our plastic consumption, and stopping noise pollution. I know we can’t go back. But wouldn’t it be nice to not have to obsess about COVID-19 every single day?
Now granted, it’s hard to expect people to take the time to care about anything besides coronavirus. But maybe, just maybe, the way back to some semblance of normal is to pay attention to the quality of our lives, and to work to banish the things around us that aren’t contributing to our health or wellbeing?
Just one year ago, a thoughtful article in the New Yorker pointed out that hearing damage and other health problems cause by excessively loud noises and noise pollution are on the rise. Journalist David Owens explained that noise pollution is creating a public health crisis because of its detrimental effects on our health and our ecosystem.
Modern sound-related health threats extend far beyond music, and they affect more than hearing,” Owens writes. “Studies have shown that people who live or work in loud environments are particularly susceptible to many alarming problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, low birth weight, and all the physical, cognitive, and emotional issues that arise from being too distracted to focus on complex tasks and from never getting enough sleep. And the noise that we produce doesn’t harm only us.
Scientists have begun to document the effects of human-generated sound on non-humans—effects that can be as devastating as those of more tangible forms of ecological desecration. Les Blomberg, the founder and executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, based in Montpelier, Vermont, told me, ‘What we’re doing to our soundscape is littering it. It’s aural litter—acoustical litter—and, if you could see what you hear, it would look like piles and piles of McDonald’s wrappers, just thrown out the window as we go driving down the road.’”
Jenny Saffran, a developmental psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, agrees. “When noise reaches a certain level, you can no longer perceive important stimuli in your environment, like people talking to you,” Saffran says in an article for BrainFacts.org, “or your attention is drawn away from these important stimuli by other acoustic signals.”
Enough already with the leaf blowers
Ah, summer. Ah, leaf blowers ripping through my otherwise peaceful neighborhood.
Noise pollution combines many factors and it affects people in different ways. It’s worse in urban areas with big noisemakers like planes overhead, trains, automobiles, sirens, honking horns, and jake brakes. But even small decibel increases in more rural areas, like where I live, can have a negative effect.
Recently I visited a friend at his apartment complex. It was hot. We sat by the pool and enjoyed the water and the quiet. Then the landscapers arrived. An army of leaf blowers roared to life. I’m not kidding, I counted no fewer than six.
There weren’t any leaves that either of us could see around the pool or anywhere else. So my friend and I politely asked if they could move on. The landscapers said no. They were required to blow the minuscule amount of leaf debris they could find into piles on the lawns, which they then mowed with their ear-splittingly loud lawnmowers, all the while spewing diesel fumes into the air we were breathing.
Compromising our lungs, hurting our ears, and who knows what else?
(The negative health effects of noise pollution, according to this World Health Organization report, include adverse birth outcomes, diabetes, disturbed sleep, tinnitus, ischemic heart disease, obesity, and even cognitive impairment in children.)
My friend told me they do this once a week at the complex. Next time we’re meeting at my house.
Noise pollution is real. Leaf blowers suck. Use a rake. Use a push mower. Or plant an edible lawn.
End of rant.
Do you think we’d be better off in a quieter world? Are you sensitive to sound? Please leave your thoughts about noise pollution in the comment section below.